Foreign nationals limited from purchasing ownership of land

Law approved by Knesset designed to ensure that property doesn’t fall into enemy hands.

Hod Hasharon 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hod Hasharon 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Knesset approved into law Tuesday a bill that will limit the ability of foreign nationals to purchase or transfer ownership of land that was formerly held by the Israel Lands Authority.
In a vote of 11-1, with only newly returned MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) opposing the bill, the law easily passed in a near-empty Knesset plenum, enjoying support from both coalition and opposition parties.
The bill was initiated by Nachman Shai (Kadima), together with Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Yariv Levin (Likud), after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sought to advance his reform of the ILA, including making thousands of dunams of formerly state-held land available for sale.
The bill’s sponsors said that they were concerned that the “massive privatization of hundreds of thousands of dunams of Israel’s land” could allow the land to be bought up by foreign interests.
Before the passage of the ILA Law in 2009, most land in Israel was officially rented out in long-term leases from state-managed holding organizations. The reform, however, increased the amount of land that was available for outright purchase.
“The law was designed to ensure that in land transfer deals, there will be a meticulous and thorough oversight though a ministerial committee in order to ensure, among other things, that the land doesn’t fall into enemy hands,” the sponsors wrote.
The ministerial review committee set up by the law will be led by the Housing and Construction Minister, and will include both the Defense Minister and the Foreign Minister.
In accordance with the law, purchases of land by foreign bodies will be reviewed by the committee, which will be authorized to approve such transfers.
Speaking before the Knesset, Shai acknowledged that the law had preempted the reform itself, which has been delayed in its realization. Shai noted that there are similar laws in many other countries in order to ensure that lands remain in the hands of citizens.
The Knesset Research Center searched for similar laws in 32 other countries, and found that in all of them there were laws restricting land purchases.
“This law is a yellow card for the Prime Minister and his government, warning that every privatization of land in Israel must be done carefully, with responsibility and with thorough examination,” said Shai after the bill passed. “We must save national land for future generations.”
After consultation with the Justice Minister, the law includes an exception for foreign citizens who qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return, even if they have not actually applied for Israeli citizenship.
In addition, there are exceptions for cases of inheritance, and for the seven percent of Israel’s privately-held lands held by foreign owners today.